The first thing that is important to understand is what you are targeting: the language or region. Some languages are spoken in several countries. For example, English is the official language in more than 75 countries around the world. It also happens that in some countries, they speak several languages. For instance, in India, there are 447 languages and 2,000 dialects.
Regardless of your interest, I will refer to the audience that speaks a particular language or comes from a particular region as the «target audience» later in this article.
- A lot has been said about this — translate with the help of native speakers. Moreover, it is desirable to build the work so that one writes, and the second checks. The first one is located in your office, and the second one is located in the target region.
- If you use images of people in the design of your site, be sure to test the localization of photos. Instead of showing Europeans, show people of the same race as the target audience. Suddenly, it may turn out that your target audience is biased (not necessarily consciously) and prefers familiar faces.
- Do you want to enter Arabic-speaking markets? Learn what an «Arabic letter» is — you will have to flip the entire site for it.
- Do you use plug-in web fonts on your site? Check how they work in the target audience’s language. Maybe they don’t work at all. 🙂
- Different languages have different average word lengths. For example, in Thai, words are not separated by spaces, but sentences are. Your designer will probably want to know these features before creating a multilingual layout.
Be prepared for the fact that different search engines may rank the same site differently due to differences in perception of content, coverage of competitors’ sites, and levels of search engine development.
For example, if a client is looking for something in Finnish, the search results will likely include sites in Finnish. However, there are fewer sites on the same topic in Finnish than in English, which may result in less strict or more specific ranking rules.
In some countries, a significant share of the market is not dominated by the usual global giants, but by local solutions. For instance, Baidu is dominant in China, Naver in South Korea, and Coccoc in Vietnam.
Therefore, it’s essential to become familiar with the ranking features of local search engines in advance. You may need to rebuild the site substantially to comply with their recommendations.
Analysis of the technical part of the site
1. What devices does the target audience use to access the site? It may turn out that the target audience in the region has a significantly higher share of mobile users than the average. It would be nice to understand whether this is due to high mobile internet penetration, low cost of mobile devices, or something else.
Let’s say our goal is to enter the Japanese market, and the site is in Russian or English. Overall, the site has a 20% share of mobile devices. However, if we consider Japan, the share of mobile devices is 70% (these numbers are abstract). Therefore, we can conclude that to effectively reach the Japanese market, we need to pay more attention to the mobile version of the site.
We should also find out the screen sizes and download speeds of our target audience. We may need to adjust the width of the content part of our mobile version because on smaller screens, users may need to scroll through the site too much.
2. Don’t forget that your website’s access speed can vary greatly between different countries. In some cases, certain providers may even be blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall, completely restricting access to your site.
If your site takes longer than usual to load for your target audience, it may be worth considering using a CDN or moving the local language copy closer to the visitors, ideally in the same country or continent.
3. What if your target audience primarily uses mobile devices with slow internet connections? In this case, it’s important to prioritize the mobile version of your site, removing any unnecessary elements and optimizing image sizes to reduce the overall weight of the page. Caching can also be used to improve loading times.
4. You may also have questions about the desktop version. For example, are there any users with older versions of browsers among the target audience? If the share of such users is noticeable, check all the important stages of the funnel on your site, such as registration and payment acceptance, to ensure that all main functionality is working properly.
I had to prioritize support for older versions of Internet Explorer when entering a certain market, and this was likely compounded by the specific subject matter at hand.
5. How should the language structure be arranged, and what should be done when the user changes the language? This is perhaps the most variable issue. There are several options, including storing languages in folders, switching the language using a parameter in the address bar, or even without a parameter. It can also happen that the translated copy is placed on a different domain or subdomain.
From a promotion point of view, separate domains are more useful:
- You can buy a regional domain.
- A site with one language is clearer to the search engine.
- Two copies with different translations can generate more traffic than one site with switching between two translations.
- If necessary, it is easier for two sites to have a different design.
From the user’s point of view, switching the language within the source domain is more useful:
- When changing the language, the user does not have to download all the images and scripts again, as when switching to another domain. Everything is taken from the cache.
- A user can have different access speeds to different domains. At least the situation doesn’t get worse if you switch the language within the domain.
- It may turn out that one of your sites is unavailable or banned at the location of the target audience. If you are unsure whether the traffic will reach the target site comfortably, you should not redirect it there.
In conclusion, separate sites should be created on separate domains. A specific language should be set by default on each site. The rest should be available for switching within the same domain but prohibited from indexing.
If possible, it is preferable to use a national domain for a regional site, such as .kz for Kazakhstan. However, not all countries allow the purchase of a domain if you are not a citizen, or if the name of a legal entity/trademark is not registered in that country.
Another reason for purchasing a domain in a neutral zone (such as .com) may be that your business must be licensed to represent itself in the target country, which you do not plan to do yet. With a .com domain, if the necessary registration/licensing is not available, it is easier to survive the negative reaction of local regulatory authorities.
When launching a separate version designed for a specific region, you should also check the functionality of all third-party services that work with your site:
- What is the reputation of your email service among local providers?
- Does the site feedback widget support the new site language?
- If the site data is included in CRM, are there any problems with encoding?
- Are your analytics and other third-party codes loaded at all in the target location?
- Do you use SMS confirmations? Will they reach users?
- Do you accept payments? What is your target audience used to paying for?
As you can see, there are many nuances: when developing, you need to take into account both the technical requirements for the site and the cultural characteristics of the region.